A look at the Land Thieves. Thanks to Jenni Carlson, NewsOK, and Matt Hofeld, Crimson & Cream Machine.
1. How is Bob Stoops handling the adversity he and his team are facing?
Jenni Carlson: Bob Stoops has never exactly been forthcoming with his emotions, but I suspect this has been a challenging year for the Sooner coach. His stars getting hurt. His team having struggles. But Stoops is always pretty even keel. He doesn't get too high or too low, which I suspect is coming in handy this season.
Matt Hofeld: I think that he’s clearly frustrated because of the rash of injuries but not so much the losses. Football games are things that you somewhat have control over and afterwards you can look back and say that there were mistakes made on certain plays or that the opposition was just better than you. However, with the injuries that Oklahoma has suffered to key personnel there is no way to have control over it. Does Oklahoma get shutdown at the goal line against BYU with Sam Bradford under center? Would Sam Bradford have hit a wide open Brandon Caleb streaking down the sideline against Miami instead of just missing him like Landry Jones did? We’ll really never know and that’s where the frustrations are found because either one of those plays would have made up for the one point deficits in both of Oklahoma ’s losses.
2. To what extent are fans upset with the coaching staff for the team's disappointing 2-2 start, and at whom is that blame most directed -- Stoops? Wilson? Venables? All equally?
Jenni Carlson: No doubt fans are disappointed, but they also know that having so many major injuries has been challenging. If this team would've started the year without Bradford, Gresham and Broyles -- as the Sooners have been for much of the non-conference schedule -- I suspect most fans would've predicted a 3-1 or 2-2 start. It's harder to stomach, though, because when the season started, there was such hope for this team. Fans have spread the blame around, but that tends to happen when there's frustration. People are just looking for someone to blame when really injuries can't be blamed on anyone.
Matt Hofeld: We can always question coaching, and some of it fairly, but you have to think that the biggest blame for the two losses are injuries. Take away a Heisman quarterback, an All American tightend and the team’s leading receiver and suddenly play calling has become very limited on offense.
The frustration for me has been the defense. In both losses the defense couldn’t come up with the big stop when it was needed most. I blame some of that on coaching but the majority of it on players not performing up to expectations.
PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN
3. Fans are particularly critical of Kevin Wilson's playcalling against Miami. Is their assessment that he has been too conservative correct or are they expecting too much from an injury-depleted offense?
Jenni Carlson: Hindsight is always so easy. It's easy for everyone to say the playcalling was too conservative, but with a strong defense, it would be easy for an offensive coordinator to think, "These guys can carry us." I suspect all of this was at play -- a good defense, an injury-depleted offense and a conservative bit of playcalling.
Matt Hofeld: He did go ultra conservative against Miami but once again look at what he had to work with. OU had a redshirt freshman quarterback, a line that wasn’t picking up the blitz and receivers who were dropping passes. At the same time both Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray were 1,000 yard backs last season so at crunch time he went where the strength was. I don’t blame him for it but I do wish that even with the running game he had been a little more creative. Don’t forget that this is the same Kevin Wilson whose offense set national records last season. He didn’t just get dumb overnight.
4. How did Bradford look in his first game back? How has he felt in the couple days since the game?
Jenni Carlson: Bradford looked great. His receivers were another story. Bradford would've had about 700 yards passing had his guys caught the ball. His arm looked good. His passes were accurate. Now, how he's felt, I don't know. We won't have a chance to hear from him until Tuesday.
Matt Hofeld: He looked alright. His passes didn’t have the same "zip" on them that they had before the injury but that will come with time. His completion percentage was low for Sam Bradford (55.1%) but the dozen or so drops by Oklahoma ’s receivers didn’t help very much.
I know you guys have had some fun with Bradford dropping to the ground instead of taking a hit on his sack but I think that it was a pretty smart play. There was no way of avoiding that sack and to protect the shoulder he just went down. There were plenty of other plays where he stepped up into the pocket or even scrambled before taking hits but on those plays he had options.
5. Though Landry Jones suffered in part from inexperience, it also seems as though Oklahoma simply doesn't have many potent downfield threats right now. Is that accurate?
Jenni Carlson: They have guys with potential, but right now, the pass-catchers are inconsistent. Guys like Brandon Caleb and Cameron Kenney have a chance to be potent, but the Sooners dropped 10 passes against Baylor. That definitely slows down an offense. DeMarco Murray can stretch the field from the running back position, but the inconsistent receivers and the tight ends being without Gresham has left the pass-catchers without star power. (BTW, I know this question isn't about Landry, but he actually has been pretty good. Not sure he showed many signs of inexperience.)
Matt Hofeld: Adron Tennell is great at getting open down the field but he’s just not very good at catching the football. Ryan Broyles is difficult to cover because of his speed and has the hands to make the long pass work but he’s unfortunately dealing with an injured shoulder. Yeah, that point is pretty accurate.
6. The right side of the Oklahoma offensive line has been particularly weak in OU's two losses. What adjustments or changes, if any, can the coaches make to help shore up this deficiency?
Jenni Carlson: The offensive line just has to keep getting better. They're improving, but they're inexperienced. There's not anything that can be done in the short-term to help them. It's just a matter of time. Now, they can use tight ends and fullbacks to help block, but really, it's just going to take time for this offensive line to come together.
Matt Hofeld: They could always move the left side to the right side…no wait…that wouldn’t work. There are still guys shuffling around on the line and I guess to an extent that competition is still open for some positions but basically it is what it is. Things will become even more complicated this week with the news that left guard Brian Simmons is out with a knee injury and will be replaced this week by sophomore Stephen Good who was the guy who gave up the infamous sack against Baylor on Saturday.
7. What matchup between Oklahoma's offense and Texas' defense concerns you the most and which one gives you the most confidence? Between Oklahoma's defense and Texas' offense?
Jenni Carlson: If I was the Sooners, I'd be really worried about the offensive line matching up against Texas's defensive front, but I'd be excited about Bradford vs. the Longhorns. The Sooner quarterback had a big day against Texas last year even though OU lost. On the other side of the ball, OU's defensive line is the defense's strength, so if I was OU, I like those guys matching up against everyone. The Sooner secondary has been hit-and-miss, so I'd be worried about those times when Colt McCoy has time to find receivers.
Matt Hofeld: Every match-up concerns me when it comes to Oklahoma ’s offense against the Texas defense. Oklahoma has an offensive unit that can’t block and can’t catch which means that they have to run and Texas has the top rushing defense in the country. Exactly what am I supposed to be confident in?
Defensively I do like the match-up between Oklahoma ’s defensive line and the Longhorns’ offensive line. I think that the Sooners will be successful in stopping the run which will force Texas to pass in order to win.
Here's one of OU's pleasant surprises. Kicker Jimmy Stevens shows everyone the Sooner hand sign.
8. There have been several disappointments for Oklahoma this season (offensive line, injuries, etc.). Have there been any pleasant surprises?
Jenni Carlson: Jimmy Stevens has been solid kicking after a really up-and-down season a year ago. The defensive line has actually been even better than imagined. Defensive end Jeremy Beal would be a star on most teams, but that defensive line is so deep that he just becomes one of the guys.
Matt Hofeld: Sure there have! We know that there is another quality quarterback behind Sam Bradford who now has big game experience. We also know that freshman running back Jonathan Miller is going to be very good. He’s averaging 7.5 yards per carry in garbage time.
9. What is your impression of the 2009 Longhorns?
Jenni Carlson: They're good. I'm not sure they've played their best ball yet, but I think they have a chance to be a really special team.
Matt Hofeld: I think that they are good but not as good as last season. I’m not sold on their rushing attack and Colt McCoy doesn’t seem to be the same as last year’s version to this point. I think that possibly he’s putting too much pressure on himself to live up to someone else’s expectation instead of just doing what he does best which is play gritty football. I’m sold on the defense even though I don’t think that the Longhorns have played anyone really good yet. Before you bring out the Texas Tech argument let me just say, don’t. They are a far cry from what we saw in 2008 and unfortunately so are the Sooners.
10. For OU to beat Texas, the following needs to happen: _________
Jenni Carlson: The Sooner offensive line needs to be better than it's been all season, and the Sooner receivers need to show consistency that they haven't show all season. Any time a team goes into a game and needs to do something above and beyond what it's shown itself capable of doing, that doesn't bode well for their chances.
Matt Hofeld: Oklahoma would have to control both lines of scrimmage, win the turnover battle and be successful in moving the ball on the ground while containing Jordan Shipley in every aspect of his game.